Parapsychology: Research on Exceptional Experiences

By Jane Henry | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Scepticism

Christopher C. French

Doubt is not a pleasant mental state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

Voltaire


Historical roots of scepticism

According to Chambers English Dictionary (1988), the word 'scepticism' (or 'skepticism' to use the American spelling) is derived from the Greek words skeptikos, which means 'thoughtful', and skeptesthai, meaning 'to consider'. It is defined as 'that condition in which the mind is before it has arrived at conclusive opinions: doubt […]'. This chapter will discuss the idea of scepticism as it applies to a consideration of paranormal claims. We will begin by considering the philosophical antecedents of modern scepticism (for more detail, see Kurtz 1992).

Hume's essay Of Miracles, published in 1748, is particularly relevant to a discussion of scepticism as it relates to the paranormal (Grey 1994). Hume presented a strong argument that one would never be rationally justified in believing that a miracle had occurred. He defined a miracle as an event which violates a law of nature, a definition which would be taken by many as including paranormal events. It is important to realise that Hume was not claiming to have proved that miracles have never occurred, only that we would never be justified in believing that they have. He proposed the following principle:

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless that testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.

(Hume pp. 115-16, in Grey 1994, p. 294)

Although this principle allows for the possibility that the evidence in favour of a miracle might outweigh the evidence against it, in practice, Hume argued, this never happens. A number of factors undermine the credibility of miraculous claims, not least of which is the problem of witness reliability. Is it more likely that the person or persons making the claim are deceivers

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Parapsychology: Research on Exceptional Experiences
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations viii
  • About the Authors ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction 1
  • Parapsychology 5
  • Chapter 1 - Parapsychology 7
  • Chapter 2 - Methodology 28
  • Chapter 3 - Meta-Analyses 42
  • Chapter 4 - Psychological Factors 64
  • Chapter 5 - Scepticism 80
  • Paranormal Cognition 91
  • Chapter 6 - Second Sight 93
  • Chapter 7 - Extrasensory Perception 99
  • Chapter 8 - Precognition and Premonitions 108
  • Chapter 9 - Animal Psi 114
  • Paranormal Action 123
  • Chapter 10 - Psychokinesis 125
  • Chapter 11 - Healing 137
  • Chapter 12 - Shamanism 149
  • Anomalous Experience 165
  • Chapter 13 - Coincidence 167
  • Chapter 14 - Apparitions and Encounters 175
  • Chapter 15 - Out-Of-Body Experiences 188
  • Chapter 16 - Near-Death Experiences 196
  • Chapter 17 - Imagery 204
  • After-Life Associations 213
  • Chapter 18 - Survival 215
  • Chapter 19 - Reincarnation 224
  • Chapter 20 - Religion 233
  • Appendices 243
  • Appendix 1 245
  • Appendix 2 248
  • Index 254
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